Joe Armstrong
July, 2001
(Revised August, 2014)
        In my previous article, "Reconsidering 'Forward and Up'" (Statnews, January 2001), I pointed out the limitations of interpreting Alexander's wording of the head direction only in terms of our being in the upright.  Here I would like to give some suggestions for making the direction more realistic in every orientation to gravity.

         If we replace the words "forward and up," as I recommended, with the more anatomically exact words "anterior and superior" to arrive at a more accurate and reasonable description of the direction, I believe that we are left with leaves the best vantage point for reasoning further about a more appropriate interpretation of it for ourselves as teachers and for our pupils.  As I mentioned before, I believe the words "forward and up" influence us too much to view the head direction only in terms of when "the gravitational and our behavioral vertical" happen to coincide (Roberts, Understanding Balance, pp. 94-95); and I think this interpretation severely limits the scope of the direction; when, in actuality, it of course needs to be operating for us positively when we are in every relation to gravity.  "Anterior and superior," technically speaking, retains the same meaning whatever position we're in, while "forward and up" does not.
        To convert "anterior and superior" into more everyday words, I think that "front and top" come about as close to a match as we can get.  In actual practice, then, the direction can be considered to be flowing frontward and topward into our heads from the essential, innermost source of freeing of our necks in the region of the atlanto-occipital joint (wherever our heads may be in space in relation to our necks at any given moment) so that our head direction can lead, or initiate, the lengthening and widening of our torsos in such a way as to facilitate the lengthening of our whole stature, which in turn allows us to achieve an "integrated (normal) working of the postural mechanisms". . ."in reaction to the stimulus of living" (Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living, p. 108 and p. xxvii).

        In 1988, to facilitate this understanding of the head direction, I began phrasing it for myself and my students as: "for the direction to come forward into my face and up into the top of my head" (see my article "Directing and Ordering," p. 18, http://www.joearmstrong.info/Directing%20and%20Ordering.html); rather than: "my head to go forward and up" or "head forward and up."  My students seem to have much less trouble conceptualizing this altered wording as they link it up with the direction I'm giving their heads with my hands, no matter what orientation their heads are in with regard to gravity, and especially if I show them an illustration or make them a drawing of the exact location of the atlanto-occipital and atlanto-axial joints just beneath the center of the base of our skull, between our ears and just behind our nose and throat.  This wording, of course, helps to bypass the frequent consternation many students express when a teacher tells them they're supposed to be directing their heads "forward and up" while they are lying down—for instance during table work in a lesson or in doing floor work on their own. With the head direction being expressed as "for the direction to come forward into my face and up into the top of my head" we also get farther away from the temptation of trying to direct the surface of our head through space as the main operation of the direction or order—which, in most students, inevitably leads into some kind of holding or "right position."

        Of course, it's perfectly obvious why F.M. chose the wording "forward and up" during his examination of his use of himself while he was standing upright reciting in front of his mirrors, since, in that relation to the gravitational vertical, he was clearly pulling his head "back and down" in space when he subconsciously engaged in his habitual mode of reciting and speaking.  But I've often wondered if he would have used the words "forward and up" for the head direction if he had been having his vocal troubles only while he was performing a role where he had to speak lying down, say, on his side, like I seem to recall hearing of Lawrence Olivier doing once in Hamlet's soliloquy.  In that case, it seems F.M. might easily have identified his habitual head direction as going "backward into the rear of and downward into the bottom of my head” and therefore might just as easily have reasoned through to say "the direction to come forward into my face and up into the top of my head" as being the most serviceable for that particular situation—as well as any other.  (This scenario isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem because I think most actors—and singers—tend to find it much harder to project their voices while they’re lying down or in other non-upright orientations to gravity's pull.)

         For a long time, it's seemed to me that one of the greatest subconscious influences on our reasoning about the head direction stems from the way many illustrations of the head, neck and torso are usually presented in books, articles, etc.—particularly in anatomical and medical texts, but also especially in many of the more recent books and articles written to introduce or explain the Technique.  Almost always, the head, neck and torso are pictured in the upright (gravitational vertical) and often from a side view.  And while this vertical side view might be useful for illustrating certain aspects of our anatomy, it certainly doesn't serve us well for conceptualizing every facet of our living and being in relation to gravity.*

         But if we take any of these upright illustrations of the head, neck, and torso and turn them on their sides (or even upside down) we are immediately obliged to consider the words "forward and up" inaccurate in referring to the actual experience of intrinsic unity we are hoping to give students with our hands when directing them toward "the integrated (normal) working of the postural mechanisms". . ."in reaction to the stimulus of living."  However, I don't necessarily think that my expression "for the direction to come forward into my face and up into the top of my head," is the best, and I would hope another, and better, wording will present itself to us—in terms of one that would be more accurate and meaningful both to the general public and to researchers as well.


*Ironically, given that we generally see anatomical features presented from an upright point of view in printed texts, I recently came across some medical drawings in an article written by a doctor to illustrate both "healthy" and "deteriorated" knee cartilage to members of a medical insurance plan. The two contrasting drawings of the knee joint were presented horizontally on the page from a side view as if the owners of the two different legs were lying on their back.  This, of course, gave little or no cause for readers to consider the effect on their knees of their use of themselves in the upright activities of standing and walking or the likelihood that undue downward pressures during those activities might cause any wearing away of cartilage. The article—though quite enlightening in its description of the actual joint conditions and even though admitting that being overweight might somehow factor into the damage of cartilage—only vaguely suggested that any kind of preventive or curative measures could be taken by improving movement mechanics, "posture," etc. The new "horse pills," condroitin and glucosamine, were all the author recommended as possible aids to the damaged cartilage.